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Greenberg: Why For-Profit School Stocks Selling Off

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One of the big questions in today's selloff of for-profit colleges is who is right: The Department of Education or Strayer Education.

On Friday, the Department of Education issued a report on the rate of loan repayments by college students.

This is important because if the rates are too low students at those schools might not qualify for government loans,, without which some of these companies would have a hard time making a go of it.

Perhaps the most surprising number of all was for Strayer Education , whose programs are for business students.

It claims its repayment rates are 55.4 percent; the Education Department says it's more like 25 percent.

Why the discrepancy? Strayer CEO Robert Silberman doesn't know because he says he hasn't seen the data used by the government.

In an interview on Power Lunch, he told me, "I don't really believe that when the set of regulators that are put in place, which are based on some rational understanding of the value that the university is providing, that there will be a material impact But we really would like to see the data." (Watch more of Silberman's comments in the video of our entire interview below.)

He also says he believes the Education Department's math is simply wrong.

On a call with investors today, the company said it believed part of the confusion may be that data used by the Education Department included loans that its students had consolidated with other outstanding student loans.

The net effect would be to show higher unpaid balances. “Our [calculation] was based on unconsolidated loans,” Silberman said in the Power Lunch interview.

I then mentioned to Silberman that students at other schools also consolidated loans—that loan-consolidation for the purposes of the Education Department calculation is not necessarily Strayer-specific.

His response: “I can’t account for other schools. What we said [in the company’s conference call] was that we want the department to provide us with the underlying to data so we can compare our number of 55 percent with their number of 25 percent.”

And what does the the Department of Education say? I have no idea. I've emailed them and called them and have had no response.

My take: Both can't be right, but this much is clear: With new rules regarding loans and for-profit schools slated for later this year, some public for-profit schools simply will not make the grade.

Strayer believes it will be among those that do. In the meantime, Silberman told me his company is filing a Freedom of Information request to get the data used by the Education Department.

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